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Thursday, April 21, 2005

BILINGUAL

For a life less ordinary, try marrying an otaku


Wedding bells rang for my friend Yoshika six months ago and last night a bunch of us got together over drinks to hear all about it -- her new life as a wife to a genuine, full-fledged ota-yome (wife of an otaku or "nerd").

The ota-yome's life of course, isn't easy -- Yoshika's take on it is: sugoku henna kotoga oi (there are many very strange things). And it should be noted that Yoshika went into this with her eyes wide open, since she herself was a puchi-otaku (petit otaku, or fledgling otaku) to begin with. She had publicly declared that she loved her i-Book more than her fiance, had watched "Eba (Evangelion)," the definitive otaku anime movie directed by otaku kingpin Hideaki Anno) three times, was a devoted fan of Studio Ghibli and had once shown up at a kasoo pati (costume party) dressed as Naushica. Still, she wasn't quite prepared for the onslaught of unfettered otaku behavior that defined the couple's newlywed life.

Her husband: a smart, gentle gijutsu-kei sarariman (corporate computer engineer) in his mid-30s, is an avid collector of figya (figures) of various animation and action heroes with a special penchant for Star Wars and Gundam. He knew seven of the great classic ani-son (animation theme songs) by heart, and liked to sing them out loud, at the top of his lungs while driving. He never failed to get up at 7:30 on Sunday mornings to watch a cult '70s anime rerun on TV and seriously considered dressing up as Kamen Raidaa (The Masked Rider) for his wedding until his mother wept and begged him not to.

Suffice to say, the whole of his private life was dedicated to the perusal of otaku pleasures and typical of the true otaku, he innocently and sincerely believed that his bride would share the same joys. For Yoshika, this meant certain drastic modifications in what she had envisioned her shinkon seikatsu (newly married life) to be like.

Having lived at her jikka (parent's house) all her life, she had many plans about decorating her own home -- and armed with copies of Elle Deco, she had aspired to a tasteful, artistic ribingu (living room) in which the red sofa from Idee (the young, professional Tokyoite's favored vendor of designer household products and furnishings) would quietly but masterfully dominate the ambience. But the sofa was obscured by the rows and rows of figya lined up on the shelves -- Luke Skywalker and Gocha-man and Ultra-man, standing like sentries, glowered at the coffee table.

Since Yoshika's mother had spent most her life in the kitchen, Yoshika had grown up swearing she would not make the same mistake and laid down a rule that as a married couple they must dine out together twice a week. She hadn't expected that in the restaurant, her husband's conversations will consist mainly of references to obscure anime directors from the '60s; a topic of interest only to other hardcore otaku.

In addition her husband adheres to a strict otaku diet of cappu nudoru (cup noodles), kan-inryou (canned soft drinks), bananas, hamburgers and convenience store onigiri (rice balls). And being an enthusiastic fan of shoku-gan (the small toy prizes that come attached to snack boxes), he has taken to consuming three or four junk snacks daily, and has cleared a whole shelf to display the prizes. Says Yoshika: "Ota-yome no michi wa ibarano michi (the path of the otaku wife is strewn with thorns)."

Elsewhere in the world such men are bypassed as totally non-eligible for relationships or marriage (and the first definition of an otaku is that he cannot, or prefers not to communicate with other human beings) and indeed, in Japan the otaku was long shunned as social outcasts.

Not that the otaku cared very much. Who needed to date when Rei Ayanami (heroine of "Evangelion") beckoned from the DVD?

But as the years went by the otaku, once a minor and underground species, increased their numbers to become very-nearly-mainstream. Yoshika says her decision to marry had much to do with the fact that in modern Japan, it's hard to find a man who's NOT an otaku in one way or another. "Otakuga iyada nante yuttara kekkon dekinai shi, otaku wa uwaki shinai kara ne (if one refused to marry an otaku, one can't get married and besides, otaku will never have affairs with other women)."



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